Libertarian nominee races around US to qualify for debates

Gary Johnson is battling to make the presidential debates.
Gary Johnson is battling to make the presidential debates.
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Most presidential hopefuls spend their Septembers in places like Ohio and Florida, hoping to win over a handful of swing voters in battleground states. But Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is crisscrossing the country in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to boost his national poll numbers and qualify for the presidential debates.

Johnson needs to reach an average of 15 percent in five national polls that the Commission on Presidential Debates relies upon to decide who qualifies for the first presidential debate on 26 September. But even his campaign manager acknowledges reaching that threshold is “unrealistic”.

Johnson currently is just below 9 per cent in three of those polls with results available so far.

He is campaigning from Maine to Florida to Washington State in hopes of closing the gap.

But he may be raising his profile the wrong way.

Last week, Johnson became a viral sensation for being stumped by a question on national television about what to do about the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

His baffled response - “What is Aleppo?” - ricocheted around the internet.

“People get excited at one faux pas,” complained Ed Crane, who runs an outside group that supports Johnson and bought $100,000 (£76,000) worth of national television ads to boost the candidate’s profile last week.

“To me, this overreaction is a sign that people are starting to worry about Gary.”

The debates are the best and possibly only chance for the relatively underfunded former New Mexico governor and medical marijuana entrepreneur to become more than a protest vote.

Supporters of Johnson and his vice presidential running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, hope that debates would let the ticket broadcast its socially liberal and fiscally conservative message to a far broader audience than the people who attend his rarely covered rallies.

“It would be a huge amount for name recognition and exposure to the ideas,” said Chris Rufer, a California tomato-processing magnate who has donated more than $1 million (£760,000) to Johnson and groups supporting him.

“It’s very important that it happens.”

Ron Neilson, Johnson’s campaign manager, said in an interview that making the debates will be challenging.

“The 15 per cent is somewhat, I’ll say, unrealistic,” Neilson said.

“It’s probably too high.”